WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- President Bush on Wednesday declared terrorist attacks in Washington and New York that injured and killed thousands of U.S. citizens "acts of war," but Bush now must choose what options he will use to strike back against anonymous attackers -- and the anonymous nation or nations that may be offering them protection.
"The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination. This battle will take time and resolve," Bush said during a meeting of congressional leaders in Washington.
But what resources do you use against terrorists operating from secret bases? What works?
For two decades, each American president has been confronted by this question. The United States military is the most powerful in the world, but its weapons are devastating and often the "collateral damage" inflicted on innocent civilians in attacks has caused international outcry.
When President Reagan was trying to defend U.S. Marines in Beirut from terrorist attacks, he used the heavy guns of the battleship New Jersey, which killed not only those targeted, but many innocent civilians.
Covert action, too, is difficult. President Ronald Reagan constructed a secret arms deal to free American hostages held in Beirut that ended up in a massive Congressional investigation and damaged his presidency.
Earlier, Reagan had Air Force planes bomb Libya after its agents were implicated in a terrorist bombing in Germany that killed American GIs. Libyan strongman Moammmar Gadhafi survived and later his agents were implicated in bombing a Pam Am Flight 103.
Jimmy Carter launched an ill-fated rescue mission to free hostages in Tehran, and it cost him reelection.
President Clinton ordered missiles fired at Afghanistan bases allegedly used for training by Osama Bin Laden after American embassies wereattacked, but Bin Laden survived in bombing criticized globally and was implicated in the bombing attack on the USS Cole this spring.
Bush's decision comes in the wake of the day in which the continental United States for the first time in the 20th century came under a major attack. Four aircraft were hijacked and three were used as fuel-laden bombs to attack the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside of Washington.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken before Bush's address Tuesday evening found that 86 percent of Americans surveyed viewed the terrorist attack as an act of war, while only 10 percent disagreed.
The leader of U.S. military and intelligence forces, President Bush will have to choose among alternatives engraved in both American constitutional and international law. In identifying the attackers responsible for the attack, Bush can -- and has -- directed the federal government's intelligence agencies to step up their operations. Once the perpetrators are identified, he could order military strikes against the organization and country harboring them.
And Bush can ask a joint session of Congress to formally declare war against a nation should it be found involved in the attacks.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO who led the attack on Bosnia, told United Press International that deciding what the United States will do to respond to Tuesday's attacks will not be like choosing from a menu. Rather, he said, the president will be able to access a range of options -- from instituting covert operations to striking with cruise missiles.
Clark said the organization responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks has support cells in many countries, and that dealing with them will not be like former President Bush's "drawing a line in the sand" or telling Saddam Hussein to disarm.
"We need to pick an option and finish this fight. It's not about negotiated conflict termination. What I am hearing from the president is that we have to destroy this terrorist," said Clark, who called the group a sophisticated, well-funded group.
Osama Bin Laden has not been charged or implicated by the United States, but several sources UPI contacted mentioned him.
Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who spoke to UPI from his home in Williamsburg, Va., said the first military response is securing U.S. facilities and personnel.
"I think at this point everyone is looking at force protection options," said Zinni who directed operations in the Middle East as U.S. Central Command chief.
Zinni said the response can not be just a military one, and indeed may only be effective if it is a total government effort weighted toward diplomacy and politics, pressuring nations that harbor terrorists to turn them over to the United States and helping countries that are simply unwilling pass-through points for terrorists to stop their transit.
"We have to eliminate sanctuary," Zinni said.
"We need to help people like Pakistan economically, so they can help us with the Taliban," Zinni said. "Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, each one may require a different response -- military, diplomatic, financial support. Who are the banks doing business there? Where is the money being laundered? How does Osama Bin Laden keep his finances in order? Are there so-called legitimate businesses that should not be allowed to exist?"
Zinni said the United States should err on the side of restraint and caution in its response to these attacks.
"The military has a role certainly when a target presents itself thatits suited for, if it is some infrastructure target," he said. "There's a time for military action, for military response, but that is dependent on good intelligence and targets. These aren't places like nation-states that have identifiable infrastructure."
"The worst thing you can have is a knee jerk reaction -- you might not have solid information, you might launch on something when you don't have the right information. You might misdirect action and cause unintended consequences," he said.
William Banks, a Syracuse University law professor and terrorism expert, told UPI that Bush laid the foundation for a military response in his brief remarks Tuesday night.
"He said we would go after the attackers and anyone who would harbor them. That was an extension of any predicate that any president has offered in the past. It is certainly possible that if this gets pinned back to Osama bin Laden's group, we could see something like the Africa Embassy response in 1998 (Clinton's missile attack). But it sounds like it would be more extensive," Banks said.
The United States has less to fear from the response of the international community than in the past should it decide to strike swiftly and forcefully. What international law might call reprisals can also been seen as self-defense, a more acceptable concept on the world stage.
"That's the debate. Reprisal is a bad word," said Banks, "Self-defense is a good word. One of the key ingredients is the factual predicate that links the attackers to those who are bombed by us. The evidence is not the kind of evidence you need to establish guilt in a U.S. court but its some credible linkage and we've done that with some care in some other cases."
On Wednesday the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked its mutual defense clause for the first time in history, pledging assistance should military force be used in retaliation for the attacks.
"The Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty,' said the council in statement.
Banks said that one other ingredient in international law is the idea of proportionality, given the magnitude of the attacks Tuesday, there is much more room to operate than in the other episodes. The devastation and death was so grave that inflicting a military strike elsewhere would not be viewed as disproportionate.
Should U.S. intelligence identify that bin Laden or another head of a terrorist group as responsible for the attacks in Washington and New York, Banks said the president could order the military to "take him out" saying it would not cause any problems on the world stage.
"No problems that he could not fix himself," Banks said. There is an executive order from President Ford that prevents assassinations of foreign leaders but he can undo that either by a new order or a simple one-time waiver. No statutes or other laws that would forbid that.
If the effective way to attack is to take out the head, that's a tactical decision."
The most effective weapon for the U.S. has been the cruise missile, which permits a retaliatory attack without endangering pilots and aircrews.
The United States also has the developed the most effective commando forces of any modern nation save Israel. The Delta Force, an Army special operations unit, the Navy Seals, the Army Rangers and the Green Berets have carried out sensitive attack missions in war and some drug operations.
Bush's assessment that this is war is an important basis forthese operations. In the 1970s, many U.S. secret operations were revealed and the men who carried them out discredited. If this is -- as the administration claims -- a new form of war, the United States needs new rules for its fighting men.